Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The holy silence

Saw an obituary today for a fellow in his seventies named Lucky H. Christmas. He was from Quality, Kentucky.

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Record Store Cats.

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What I like best at the reference desk is when somebody asks me a question about something I know absolutely nothing about, and I'm able to lead them to good information. Sorry to burst anyone's bubble, but it's not true that librarians know everything. We can, however, darn sure figure out where to look it up.

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I'm enjoying the new Indigo Girls album. And as it turns out, if it's true that they are using the orchestra pit as part of the stage instead of selling the three rows of seats they can stick in it, I apparently have a front row seat for their concert in Indianapolis next month. I have it on fairly good authority that they are not selling the pit, so I am quite pleased. Front row, bay-bee!

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Thanks to those who have weighed in on my reading questions. Never fear, I have already practiced my poems and plan to continue doing so throughout the week. (I practice them standing up. It makes a difference.) I don't ever memorize my poems to the point of going completely "off the page" with them, but I am generally looking at the audience instead of down at my paper at least 50% of the time. Unless I'm reading something brand brand new (which I very seldom do, though I do it at the student readings in Provincetown because it's just more fun to read the stuff I'm working on that week) or unless I suddenly get uncomfortable with what I'm reading for whatever reason. (That has happened to me. Midway through I realize: "Oh shit, I said THIS in this poem? Why didn't anybody TELL me? Gah..." and all I can do is just finish reading.)

David Vincenti's comment was a good one. He said:
If I know my audience will be mostly amateurs or non-poets (like when I trot myself out as "the engineer who writes poems"), I do usually introduce myself/my work and script a few transitions.

If I know my audience is likely to contain a non-trivial fraction of deep readers and/or experienced writers - especially, perish the though, people whose work I love - I spend more time inside the works and less between them.
And you know what, I think that's what I do too. I think sometimes inexperienced (for lack of a better word) audiences need a little more hand-holding, which is not necessarily a bad thing. With a more experienced audience, I have more of a sense that I trust them to "get" the poems on their own a little more, that they have certain expectations of a poem and that they know to pay a certain kind of attention to a poem, that they have a context for it. The audience at a Five Women Poets reading tends towards the "friends and relatives" sort of audience. I often like to subvert their expectations of poetry by actually (gasp) being funny and engaging (at least that's what I aim for...), where with a more experienced audience, I don't feel the same kind of compulsion to persuade them to like me; I let myself trust that they are there primarily because they like poetry, for whatever warped and twisted reason, and that changes how I present my work. With an inexperienced audience, I feel like if I can win them over and get them to like me, then I don't have to worry so much about the poems necessarily being entertaining or engaging; if I pull them in with a few words of introductory patter, they're more willing to follow me into a poem that is maybe more "difficult" (ugh, that word) than they'd normally stick with.

If that makes sense at all. And I hope it doesn't come across as being condescending to my "less experienced" audience, because holy moly, does it feel good when someone comes up to you afterwards and says "you know, I never really cared for poetry before, but..."

Also, in all honesty, the first ten or so words that I say after landing at the podium are generally pretty much a lost cause -- I have a breathy moment, I'm not quite there yet. Better that should be introductory bla-bla, instead of losing the first line or two of my first poem. (Especially if there's a microphone. Nothing like launching right into your poem and halfway through it you realize the damn thing's not on.)

Lyle mentioned applause in his comment. Since we have seven readers, what generally happens (and sometimes we actually mention this in our overall intro to the reading -- "hi, thanks for coming, we'll have a ten minute intermission halfway through, you can purchase our CD, bla bla bla") is that people applaud after each reader finishes. That works pretty well. I don't think we've ever had people try to applaud after every poem. That makes my hands hurt just thinking about it.

He also mentioned silence -- and yeah, there is that moment sometimes mid-poem, sometimes right after the last line, when you can hear the audience listening and you know they're right there with you. That is the BEST FEELING IN THE WORLD. An actress friend of mine refers to that as "the holy silence."

And those moments, those silent moments, make all the rest of it worthwhile.

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Word of the day: anadromous

One entry found for anadromous.

Main Entry: anad·ro·mous
Pronunciation: &-'na-dr&-m&s
Function: adjective
Etymology: Greek anadromos running upward, from anadramein to run upward, from ana- + dramein to run -- more at DROMEDARY
: ascending rivers from the sea for breeding [shad are anadromous] -- compare CATADROMOUS

(thanks to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary)

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I watched some tennis on TV the other day. As they hit the ball back and forth across the net, back and forth, back and forth, it went: BAP, BAP, BAP.



And that's all I have to say about that.

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Favorite headline of the week, from the NOAA Fisheries Service announcements:

Invasive Sea Squirts Persist on Georges Bank

(I do hope that's not what killed Lucky Christmas.)

Sunday, September 24, 2006

More reading (over)planning

The set for my 8 minutes' worth of the upcoming Five Women Poets reading has come together almost by accident. The poems I've selected aren't necessarily the best poems I have written in the past year, but as I went through poems (stopwatch at the ready for timing them), these seemed to want to hang together. Hm.
  1. [poem by someone else, not completely decided yet]
  2. The Total Loss Department (1:07)
  3. The Aging Sailor Remembers (1:13)
  4. Sleeping in Space (2:17)
  5. Arrival (1:48)
#3 and #4 are likely to confuse and consternate anyone who believes poems are always autobiographical, since I'm neither a retired ship's captain nor a space shuttle astronaut. Hee.

I wish I had more opportunities to read -- I really enjoy it, though putting together my set always gives me fits a little bit. I suppose I need to plan out my introductory remarks more carefully, so that I don't find myself babbling. But there's a fine line between "avoidance of babbling" and "too stiffly scripted." I always find myself a little put-off when a poet reads their intros word-for-word from the page, as I think the intros are a good opportunity to connect with the audience a little bit, be a little bit human. While there is something to be said for not talking between poems at all, letting the poems speak for themselves, I generally enjoy hearing what the poet has to say, and find that I feel more included somehow when they chat a little bit.

What about you guys? Do you script your introductory remarks? Make notes about what you want to say but ad-lib based on the notes? Ad-lib entirely? Eschew introductory remarks altogether? Do you do anything differently for a "hometown crowd" where you know many of the people in the audience, as opposed to an audience of strangers?

If you do readings, what do you like -- or dislike -- about doing them? Besides, of course, the rockstar treatment, the limo ride to & from the venue, the bottles of champagne delivered to you backstage, the groupies hanging around the stage door after ... What, does that stuff only happen to me??

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

All the news that (gives me) fits

Ended up not getting to the Gerald Stern reading tonight. I've been feeling a little blah, like I'm coming down with something, and driving over three hours (about an hour and 40 minutes each way) for a 30-40 minute reading just didn't feel like the way I wanted to spend my evening. Instead I sat home and watched a Jean-Michel Cousteau special on PBS about the National Marine Sanctuaries (some gorgeous underwater photography, including coral spawning and humpback whales) and NASA TV. I am such a nerd.

Word from the Indiana Arts Commission that beginning with the 2007-08 grant cycle (for which applications will be due in February), their Individual Artist Grants are being increased from $1000 to $2000. Good news, right? Except that unless they come up with some additional funding (shyeah right), only 40 artists will get grants instead of 80-some (in FY2005 they funded 86 artists out of 199 applications). For myself, I'd rather have a better chance at a $1000 grant -- enough to cover a one-week summer workshop -- than a less-than-stellar shot at more money. Plus, you don't get your funds until something like September, which means that for a summer workshop I'd have to put it on my credit card & pay it off later when I got the grant money; I could have managed to do that with $1000, but more than that will be a stretch, and maybe not do-able. Hello, friendly credit union, can I have a loan?

Oh well. I meant to apply for this fiscal year, but was felled by the Martian Death Flu in January and didn't get the application done. I'll probably try next year anyway. $2000 might let me take two workshops in Provincetown, which would be almost unbearably cool. You know, I don't think I have ever been away from home for two whole weeks in my adult life....

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Upcoming (or incoming, as the case may be)

I'm planning to drive up to Indianapolis for several readings in Butler University's Visiting Writers Series:
  • Wednesday, Sept. 20: Gerald Stern
  • Wednesday, Oct. 18: Gregory Orr
  • Thursday, Oct. 26: Mary Oliver
I'll be on the Butler campus three times in eight days, as the Indigo Girls concert at Clowes Hall is on Monday, Oct. 23, right in between the Orr & Oliver readings. (Although if I start feeling a little overbooked, I may end up skipping Orr; it's over an hour and a half drive in each direction, and so far I don't have anyone interested in going with me.) I've snagged a pretty good seat for the Indigo Girls show, 4th row, and their new album comes out this Tuesday so I'll be hearing lots of songs I haven't yet heard in concert, which makes me a happy happy fangirl.

IU's MFA program will be bringing in some readings this year, I'm sure, but they haven't yet updated their calendar to reflect this academic year. They're not exactly spectacular about making sure their readings get publicized outside of the English department, which is a drag sometimes.

And of course, the Five Women Poets reading at Boxcar Books on Saturday the 30th of this month. Can't forget that one. :) (If it weren't for this reading, I might have considered driving down to St. Louis that night, as cartoonist Alison Bechdel of "Dykes To Watch Out For" and Fun Home fame is reading/speaking, and I adore her. She'll be at Left Bank Books, for you St. Louisians.)

(Still contemplating opening my eight-minute segment with a poem by someone else -- thanks to those of you who chimed in on that topic! 8 minutes is such a short set, but I think it might be fun. And our audiences usually have a large percentage of "I never read poetry but I thought I'd come and hear my friends" people, so almost anything I read will serve to introduce people to someone new to them. Which is nice.)

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Wrote some poems this weekend after not writing a damn thing for about a month. Thank goodness. I have complete first drafts of poems called "Dx" (an abbreviation you medical-types will recognize) and "Waiting to Meet the Rock Star," and have started scratching out notes on one called "Sleeping in Space" (I've been watching a bunch of NASA TV this weekend).

There's never enough time in the weekend, is there?

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Reading plans

So I am starting to think about what to read for my poetry group's annual reading, which falls on September 30 this year. Two things I am considering:

1. At our meeting the other night we chose the order in which we would read. We decided that we wanted to end on an "up" note, and someone asked "okay, who's got an uplifting poem that they can end on, and they can go last?" Lots of silence. Several of the members didn't feel like they had anything non-depressing to read. Eek! So I volunteered to go last. Now I have to be sure I end on something relatively uplifting -- oh, the pressure. I've actually never been the last reader in this group, as far as I can recall. Hopefully it won't be one of those readings where we lose half our audience at the intermission.

2. I'm considering doing a cover -- that is, reading a poem by someone else. I haven't chosen a specific one, but I'm toying with the idea in general. Partly, I'm not real crazy about my own work right now. Partly, I want to take the opportunity to promote work I love by someone else, and maybe inspire someone in the audience to go read more by whoever I end up reading, and discover some poetry they will love. I haven't decided for sure yet, though. What do you all think about people reading poems by others instead of only original work? Does it work best to open with the cover (and since of course you're selecting something really good, do you feel like the original work sometimes pales by comparison? because that seems a little risky) -- or do you think it's best to slip the cover in the middle of your set? I only have about 8 minutes to fill, so if I do a cover, it will be only one, for sure.

I have to decide what to wear, too. That's probably more traumatic than deciding what to read. *grin*

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

This one's for Corn Shake

Originally uploaded by Macky's hat.
It's a leetle doggie with a corn hat!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

One of my heroes

Tonight, in the last match of her professional career, Martina Navratilova (along with Bob Bryan) won the mixed doubles championship at the U.S. Open, demolishing a couple of Czechs in straight sets.

The woman turns fifty years old next month. She's won more championships than I've probably even watched on TV. She is thirty years older than Maria Sharapova, who won the women's singles title tonight. She's a politically outspoken lesbian activist with a smile that lights up the world when things are going well for her. I was fortunate enough to see her play a couple of times in exhibition matches during her brief semi-retirement, and to witness that kind of power and grace from close up is nothing short of spectacular. Her presence just fills the whole stadium.

And here she is, still kicking ass and taking names and bringing home one more big old trophy -- and purely for love of the game. If she can find it in herself to work that hard, surely I can manage to sit down at my desk every day and write. Right?

Go Martina! May you have a long and blissful retirement. And thanks for the inspiration.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Good news is always nice.

Got word last night that Blood Orange Review is taking two of my poems, "A Field Guide, A Map" and "Snow at Midnight." (And thanks to Charlie for his post a while back that tipped me off to this nice little online journal!)

If I'm not mistaken, I now have more poems in the "forthcoming" file than I ever have. That feels good. Publication isn't everything, and it's not the reason I write. But I will admit, uncool as it may be, that I do enjoy it. It is heartening to know that not only did someone like my work, they liked it enough that they want to get other people to read it. To me, that's a heck of a compliment.

A heartfelt "well done" also to fellow blogger Diane K. Martin, whose manuscript made the runner-up cut in the Tupelo Press first-book contest -- frustrating, I know, to feel so close and yet so far, but at least you know you're playing on the right ballfield! And congrats as well to Theresa Sotto, a fantastic poet I met this past summer in Provincetown, whose manuscript made the finalist roster in the same contest.

May we all find the best of readers for the best of our words.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006


Two non-poetry-related notes tonight, both courtesy of the Atlanta Zoo.
  • Atlanta has a brand-new baby panda! Their female panda Lun Lun gave birth to a little butterstick-sized critterbaby just before 5 pm today. My aunt, who is a zoo member, got an emailed announcement from them about two hours later and forwarded it to me straightaway. My psychic powers tell me that I will be spending an inordinate amount of time peeking at their Panda-cam over the next several months, if the baby survives and does OK. There's not much of anything cuter than a baby panda! I may also have to make a trip to the ATL to see the little guy in person (in panda?) when they put it on display. Hmmm, it may very well be old enough by the time AWP rolls around. Even more incentive to figure out a way to get there! If I manage to go, I think I will try to plan an extra day to visit the aquarium and the zoo.
  • Recycle your old cellphone and help with gorilla conservation. They'll take any old cellphone, whether it works or not. Definitely a good cause. If you don't want to take or mail your old cellphone to Atlanta, there are a bunch of other drop-off locations throughout the USA, Canada, and Australia. This is a great idea because (besides the fact that they can use the proceeds from selling usable phones) apparently there is a substance called coltan which is used in the manufacturing of cellphones, the mining of which directly screws up the gorillas' natural habitat. You can read more about it here.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

to play with venomous beasts

Watching Rock Star: Supernova on TV and reflecting on why I, your basic frumpy middle-aged librarian type, love loud rock & roll so much. I love that intensity, the sense of skating on the edge. Maybe because I've fairly effectively banished that kind of hair-pulling, fist-clenching angst from my own life. And thank goodness for that.

I like that "live or die right here in this moment" intensity in some sports, too. Tennis. I love how psychologically intense a hotly contested tennis match can be. Win or lose, live or die by the half-inch that fuzzy ball falls inside or outside of the painted line. Watching Richard Gasquet late last night, cramping terribly, using everything in his body and his will to somehow rocket the impossible passing shot, saving match point against Lleyton Hewitt (who ended up winning anyway, but nevermind that). Watching Andre Agassi say goodbye, at once completely spent and completely full.

I don't really understand the need to put oneself in physical danger, to play with venomous beasts, et cetera. But I guess sometimes writing poems can put the poet in emotional danger that is just as dire in its own way. I've written poems that have left me feeling wrecked for days. I've written poems that have pissed other people off. I'm sure I'll do both of those again.

Ideally: a balanced, comfortable, sane life, with the need for "live or die in this moment" intensity channeled into poetry. I have no patience with romantic angst or manufactured crisis mode. There's time enough for crisis when it happens despite our best effort. People leave us, people die -- isn't that crisis enough?

What I do like: working at the reference desk. I've always been someone who likes having answers, being a know-it-all. It's actually kind of dangerous to reward someone like me for being a know-it-all. *grin* I love it when I help someone find the information they are looking for, or when I help them understand how something works, or when I help them feel okay about the process of discovery they need to go through to get from here to there. When the interaction ends with them saying "you've been REALLY helpful!" with a note of surprise in their voice, like they're not used to anyone being quite that helpful, like they'd almost forgotten what "good customer service" was like. I love surprising them like that. They get a little bit confused by it sometimes, like there must be a catch to it. I love that.

It doesn't always go that well, of course. It's not like that even once a day. But when it is, it makes it all worthwhile.

I still intend to make that fresh start, spending 90 minutes a day at my desk reading and writing (and maybe I'll count submitting as a part of that -- I haven't decided yet -- what do you guys think? does the submitting process count as part of writing, or is it a separate thing?) but I've decided that, as wiped-out as I've been from work, it's okay if I wait to start until next week. After the US Open is over and there's no more tennis to veg out in front of. I don't have to keep the same semester schedule as the university just because I work there. After all, I'm not going to stop writing for three weeks over Christmas, either. This new job takes more out of me than I'm used to, and it's OK that I need some time to acclimate.

I need to start thinking about (and seriously getting publicity out for) the Five Women Poets reading at the end of the month. I've got a couple of poems I'd like to read then but which need revising first.

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Steve Irwin to a charging elephant seal: "You're a naughty boy! You can't catch me, I'm a land mammal!"

(I'm not kidding. That was on an episode I'd recorded and just watched tonight, about Antarctica.)

On that note, adieu for now.